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Archive for Home base

End of the road, start of a new one

Three years ago this week, we sold our house and went out “on the road” in an 1977 Argosy travel trailer. It’s our anniversary!

Three months later, we swapped the 24-foot Argosy for our current 30-foot Airstream so that we could travel full-time in greater comfort. We figured we’d be on the road for six or seven months, then return to Vermont and build a house. Four months later we tossed that plan and decided to extend our travels for another year.

Two years after we began, we began to sense a change coming, like a new wind blowing in, and so we bought a home base in Arizona as an insurance policy against sudden changes in circumstance. Last winter, the feeling got stronger, so we returned to Tucson to prepare the house to become our home.

I mention all this because it shows how our lifestyle and plans have changed over the years. We never set out to live in a travel trailer for three years, but it happened that way. We never planned to relocate to the southwest. I never thought I’d be keeping up a blog this long. Our plans are rarely cast in concrete. They seem to flow from circumstance, but really they are the practical results of a thousand soupy factors that occasionally congeal into a plan.

Well, that process continues. I alluded to this a couple of posts back. This plan is no more set that our earlier ones, but I am pretty sure that our current road will come to an end in October. I can’t point to any single reason for that, but there are a dozen small reasons that together are telling me that the winds of change have finally arrived.

This doesn’t mean that we’ve become tired of the lifestyle or disgruntled with fuel prices. It’s not because we’ve seen everything (that’ll never happen!) Traveling is still fun, still affordable, and still something we plan to do. But we’ve had a marvelous run of three years, and seen more of this country than we ever thought we’d see, and now other priorities and opportunities are popping up that we’d like to pursue.

So we will have one last big run of 3,000 miles from Vermont to Arizona (via NY, OH, IN, MO, KS, CO, UT) with many great stops along the way. We’ll begin that trip around August first, and probably arrive at home base sometime in October.

Once we get there I plan to wrap up this blog and start a new one. I’m looking forward to that. I want to write on a less-frequent basis, perhaps weekly, on a somewhat different subject. I haven’t decided what that subject will be. (I’d welcome your suggestions.) I might write about life in Arizona, or the publishing world, ukuleles, bicycling, writing, photography, or any of dozens of other things that interest me … who knows?

I’ve talked to other full-timers like Leigh & Brian (the former 63FlyingCloud travelers), and Bobby & Danine (ending their year-long journey in five weeks), and Brad Arrowood (who wrapped up his travels with Mary over a year ago). One common thread is that we’ve all discovered there’s an end eventually. Sometimes it’s not even clear to ourselves why we are ending what appears to be the “perfect” lifestyle, but we do.

I suppose that’s hard for most people to appreciate. I know that the way we’ve lived has been the dream of many people, and I don’t discard the lifestyle casually. For you, it must seem rather anti-climactic for us to go back to a life of conventionality when, strictly speaking, we don’t have to. But a lesson of having done this is that we realize most of the restrictions of conventional life that we perceive are those we’ve put on ourselves.

In other words, we’re not afraid to go back to a house in the suburbs because it is not the ultimate for us. We know now that we can break the rules again if we so desire, and run off once more to a completely different lifestyle. This gives me the same epiphany of freedom that I first experienced when we were three weeks into our first big run across the country. We have choices. We live in a free nation, a great land, and there is a lot to be explored if we will only let ourselves do it.

For the record, we are not selling our Airstream. I can’t imagine life without it. We’ve already planned a trip to California over the holidays. Our first few months in the house will be spent settling in, making local friends, and exploring Tucson, but we’ll still get away from time to time. Frankly, we’ve become spoiled by our travel format, where we can stay as long as we like in a place for $0-30 per night. (Eleanor has a short trip planned to the Boston area while I’m at the Vintage Trailer Jam, and we are both suffering sticker shock from what ordinary motels cost down there. I’m ready to propose she take the tent and sleeping bag…)

There will be more on this subject later, as we work out details and ideas. In the meantime, I’m going to keep posting on our travels this summer. Next week the Caravel project will start in earnest, and the week after that I’m heading to the Vintage Trailer Jam. A couple of weeks after that we’ll start west.

Monsoon season

It seems that every summer we are here in Vermont I end up writing about thunderstorms. I am sorry to be so repetitive, but the storms have always been the dominating influence on our lifestyle while we are here. We are slaves to the weather here in the northeast, with our daily activities determined in a large part by whether we will have snow, rain, or heat and humidity. Only rarely does it seem to be sunny and dry.

Back in Tucson our neighbors and friends are awaiting the annual “monsoon season.” Yes, the American southwest desert has a monsoon season, extending from June 15 to September 15, during which time the dew point soars up above 54 degrees and dramatic lightning storms roll in from the west and south. The dry washes are flooded with raging brown water, and in a couple of months Tucson receives half of the 12 or so inches or rain it gets per year.

Back in here in Vermont, we don’t have a monsoon season, because there is no season in which we don’t get thunderstorms and heavy precipitation. Or to put it another way, it’s monsoon season all year long.

As I write this I am sitting in the Airstream listening to today’s thunderstorm. It started with a sudden chill breeze at 8 p.m., dropping the air from 70 degrees to the mid-60s, and then long crackling distant warnings, that morph into a rumble and ten seconds of echoes and aftershocks. Then the rain began in earnest, rattling down on the aluminum roof and accompanied by huge booms that shook the Airstream. Eleanor and Emma are in the house right now, probably watching the storm through the glass sliders on the west side. I am comfortable and well-protected in here.

Our friends in Tucson told us we should be there for the monsoon season, and I’m sure it is a spectacular sight. In some future year we will be there to watch the blue storms gallop in from the west over the desert landscape. But for now we have the Vermont version, which I suspect is no less dramatic in its own way.


It wasn’t all storm today, however. After a solid week of on-again, off-again rain and sun, we got half a decent day, and that was enough to encourage my brother to come over with his sailboat. He and my parents jointly have purchased a 1975 Chrysler Buccaneer, an 18-footer that looks like serious fun to race around the lake. The boat needs a little work (new hatch covers mostly), but it should be sailable almost immediately. We spent an hour trimming trees with the chainsaw yesterday so that the Armada and boat could squeeze around the side of the garage to the lakeside, and today Steve trucked it over. The boat was dismantled for travel, so re-assembly work started this afternoon. If things go well, we could be sailing later this week.

I am told that Emma was the driving reason for getting this sailboat. Being the only grandchild, she’s a handy excuse for all sorts of things. But I heartily approve. Sailing is a good thing for a kid to learn, and a great outdoor activity for everyone. Emma has a book on sailing to study this week, so she’ll be ready for her first lessons.

My Caravel project is still moving along slowly. I was having trouble matching the wood in the trailer, so I brought a big chunk of it up to the wood experts in Burlington, and they determined that it is not oak (as many people have claimed), but in fact pecan. I am not entirely sure that is correct, but I do agree it’s not oak. The grain is all wrong for oak. It’s also not poplar, ash, or birch — all species which people have guessed at in the past.

Even if we were sure it was pecan, it would be tough to match new pieces to the old. Pecan isn’t as cheap as it was in 1968, either. So, after considering several options, I have decided to rebuild everything from new wood. This greatly increases the magnitude of the work, and the cost, but I am sure that the end result will be far superior. It will eliminate a lot of refinishing work and allow me to correct a few design problems as well.

For example, the kitchen cabinet front was built to accommodate a gravity furnace that is long since gone, and a fully manual Dometic gas refrigerator that (despite much work) still insists on freezing our lettuce. We will re-design the kitchen cabinets to allow a slightly larger and considerably better replacement refrigerator, and put in door fronts that reflect how we really use the space.

At this point we are looking at ash for the replacement wood. Ash has a light blonde color that will go well with the vinyl walls and warm yellow Marmoleum floor in the trailer. I’m awaiting a estimate on availability from our wood suppliers before settling on the wood choice. In the meantime, I’ve measured every piece of 1/4″ plywood and all the structural members of every cabinet in the trailer, in order to estimate our needs. It’s considerable: at least four sheets of veneer plywood, and many board-feet of 3/4″ lumber.

To speed the project, I’m asking the wood guys to deliver some stock pre-ripped to the dimensions we will need. They can do it more quickly and straighter than I can on my homeowner table saw. Most of the Caravel’s furniture was assembled from 3/4″ x 3/4″ or 3/4″ x 1-1/2″ sticks, glued and doweled, with 1/4″ plywood forming the sides, and two thicknesses of 1/4″ plywood glued together to make the cabinet doors and drawer fronts. I’m going to use pocket hole joinery using a Mini-Kreg kit with glue, instead of dowels. With a few improvements to the design, we will even save a few pounds, making the 2400-lb Caravel even lighter and easier to tow.

But that’s all just details. The best things that happened today were Emma playing a Hawaiian tune on her Flea “pineapple” ukulele for everyone, and Eleanor making a superb dinner of fresh Thai summer rolls with peanut dipping sauce, and shrimp on the barbecue. The little things are what make a summer’s day. The big projects are just the things we do to fill in the time between moments like those.

A new project

I have hung back on the blog this weekend to let my thoughts catch up with events. It has been a time when a lot of “not much” seemed to happen. Sometimes I find myself simply living the events of day to day without having any motivation to analyze them, which is lot different from how I normally act. This was one of those times.

Most of the time I am like a cow, regurgitating my experiences during the day to re-think them — mentally chewing the cud so to speak. But sometimes the flood of events overwhelms me and I find that at the end of the day I have no thoughts to share, no results of introspection, and even though things have happened they feel like secrets. It’s a feeling like being washed down a river and there’s nothing to be done about it but wait until you land on a sand bar.


It’s a particularly strange sensation because quite a few things happened and yet I wasn’t writing about them.   On Friday night we took the boat out for an evening tour of the lake. Across the lake and a few miles south there’s a spot called Split Rock, and just west of the split rocks is a beach famous for its beautifully round rocks and driftwood. Somehow conditions are just right for the slate and granite to become circular and nearly polished, and wind up here on the beach.


On Saturday Eleanor and I took off to Plattsburgh, where Colin Hyde restores vintage trailers.   We met Colin at the shop and toured a few projects in progress, but our main task was to take a look at our beloved 1968 Caravel, which has been sitting at Colin’s shop for three years.   We left it there, partially restored, and haven’t gotten around to finishing the project.


Until now.   I want the Caravel to be usable for next summer, so we loaded up a minivan full of interior cabinetry   to take back to Vermont for refinishing or rebuilding.   It is now proven that you can fit the entire interior of a Caravel in a Honda Odyssey with room to spare.   I’m going to return all the parts to Colin over the next few weeks, either refinished or completely rebuilt from new wood.   It will take a while but I think I can get it all done before it’s time to go. I plan to document the process here, so you’ll be seeing more of this.

On Sunday we had Colin and his wife Suzanne and son Malcolm over for a day of play by the beach.   They hit it right because the weather was gorgeous: about 80 degrees, sunny, and very calm on the water.   We did all the usual beach day stuff:   a little wakeboarding, catching rays, playing in the water, then dinner on the grill, a game of whiffleball on the lawn,   and finally saying farewell to our guests at about 9 p.m. (when at this time of year the sun is just setting).

It was in every way a pleasant day, and at the end of it I began to feel the writer’s block breaking down.   I think a heavy workload and lots of little concerns built that block during the week.   While I don’t expect this week to be any easier, I think having a little project as a distraction will help keep me writing in this period of non-travel.

So I’ll talk about that for a moment.   The interior of our 1968 Airstream Caravel is supposedly oak.   It does not look like the sort of oak you see in lumberyards today.   The grain is very broad and knot-free.   The color is sort of a yellowish, possibly due to the age of the varnish.   This makes it very difficult to match.   Some of the wood is 1/4″ veneered plywood, and other pieces are solid 1″ thick   planks.

Water damage, physical abrasion, burns, and hack repairs have all taken a toll on the wood, and many pieces are beyond refinishing.   If I replace just a few pieces and finish them with modern polyurethane, they are likely not to match the older pieces, and in most cases will make the older stuff look terrible.   The solution appears to be to refinish everything so it all looks about the same.

This isn’t as bad as it seems because there isn’t really a lot of cabinetry inside such a small trailer.   The whole thing amounts to perhaps three sheets of 1/4″ plywood (albeit expensive veneer plywood), and some 1″ planks ripped to appropriate width.   My first mission this week is to take some samples to the local wood specialists and see what I can get to match the grain and color.   I may have to adapt the wood with a light stain.   I also will consider changing all the wood to a new species if the cost is not outrageous. Personally, I think the Caravels I’ve seen with cherry interiors are very nice.

While the interior is out of the Caravel, perhaps this fall, Colin’s elves will start to finalize the interior.   The serious work on this trailer was done in 2004, including a new plywood subfloor, stripping of clearcoat, re-wiring, refurbishment of the bathroom, plumbing fixes, new axle, a spare tire holder, extensive exterior metal work, dent repair, new insulation, new belly pan, Marmoleum finish floor, upgraded power converter and electrical panel, window repairs, refrigerator refurbishment, etc.

That was a hunk of work, especially the metal repairs, but there’s still a fair bit left to do.   We need to reinstall the interior, reinstall the appliances (fridge, catalytic heater),   finish the plumbing, get new foam and upholstery, add curtains, add a vintage awning, refurbish some exterior nameplates, and polish the skin.   I will likely also remove the TV antenna (the trailer doesn’t have a TV), add LED clearance lights, and get the trailer clearcoated as it was originally.

Not all of this can be done in the next few weeks, of course.   But if we can have the trailer ready for next summer, I’ll be satisfied.   It will be fun to take to the Vintage Trailer Jam in 2009, and   we could even use it as our temporary house in Vermont rather than taking the big Airstream across the country again.   I’m not at all sure what sort of living situation we’ll have next summer, but it’s nice to have options.

Low voltage

I mentioned last week that the temperature in Vermont in June is unpredictable.   Case in point: last week we had several days of days so cold that I had to run the furnace to keep the trailer warm enough for me to type, and now for the past four days it has been between 85 and 90 degrees at the lake. It’s the temperature equivalent of “feast or famine,” except it’s “roast or freeze.”

The current “roast” phase means the people inland, and especially up in Vermont’s “Queen City” of Burlington, where pavement abounds, are really suffering.   It’s always hotter away from the lake.   We’ve got 55-degree heat sink about three miles wide and 400 feet deep right in front of the house, and it takes a bit of the edge off.   Lots of cool green lawns help too, but the humidity is horrible.   People talk about Florida humidity, and I agree it’s intense, but try a summer in northern Vermont sometime.   I have to be careful not to inhale too deeply, lest I drown.

So today I finally broke down and tried to fire up the air conditioner.   (I’m working in the Airstream all day because it is quiet and free from distractions.) The problem is that we are on the end of a 50-foot extension cord from the garage, and that garage outlet is probably at the end of a long line of electrical code violations.

The Dometic air conditioner installed in our Airstream, and most other late-model Airstreams, requires a minimum of 103.5 volts.   Any lower than that and you’ll burn out the compressor motor, and that’s an expensive mistake.   Last summer I bought a digital voltage meter which stays plugged into an outlet on the wall, specifically so I can watch suspicious campground voltage and find problems before they cost me money.

You might be surprised how often campgrounds have inadequate electrical service, but far worse are the courtesy parking situations.   After all, most people don’t build their homes to with dedicated electrical circuits for visiting RVs, and that means low voltage is often a problem.   Since homeowners rarely have a clue what sort of power they can supply, it’s sort of a “moocher beware” situation.

The problem with the voltage meter is that it can only tell you what the voltage is at that exact moment.   It can’t predict what the voltage will drop to when you put a load on it, like an air conditioner.   Think of voltage like water pressure from a hose.   There might be lots of pressure in the hose when the faucet is closed, but when you open the faucet, the pressure could quickly bleed off and leave you with barely a trickle. Turning on an appliance that uses electrical energy is just like opening that faucet.

So my technique to avoid expensive problems is to switch the air conditioner on and watch the volt meter carefully.   When the A/C compressor fires up, the voltage will drop.   If it drops to no less than 104 volts, you’re theoretically OK (although I am always leery of getting even close to that number; my personal limit is 109 volts to allow for variations in line voltage).     If the voltage is unacceptable, I snap off the A/C switch immediately.

No surprise that today the voltage was ridiculously poor, in fact the worst I’ve ever seen.   The moment the compressor started the voltage dropped to 89 volts, struggled up to about 95 volts after a second or two, and then I shut it off.   No air conditioning for me!

Considering that we are coming here annually and staying for weeks at a time, I could see installing a 30-amp dedicated plug for the Airstream, as we did in Arizona.   But the location of the power meter would require us to bury a new line under the driveway and install a subpanel on a post.   Beside the mess and expense, it would be a big psychological step for our fiercely independent family, since having our own power outlet would almost akin to moving back into my parents’ house. It’s probably asking enough that we are leaving an antique Honda next to their garage for the winter.

And really, all that trouble for air conditioning just for a few days each summer?   Maybe I should just go jump in the lake to cool off.   I’m sure that’s what Dad would say.   He’s probably right.

Whiffleball by the lake

039_12800jack-nicholson-posters.jpgAfter spending all week virtually a prisoner in the Airstream, chained to my computer, I really wanted to get out today. There’s a real danger in being back at our northeast home base. Because I know the area so well, I tend to assume I’ve seen everything and so don’t get out as much as I should. Then I spend too much time working, and by the end of the week craziness starts to set in, and pretty soon I’m wielding an axe like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.”

Problem is, I had nowhere to go today. So I made up an errand, which was to go the Burlington Farmer’s Market (held every Saturday in the summer) and see if Rookie’s Root Beer was there. Last year I ran into this fabulous home-brewed root beer and bought a cup for $2. I consider myself to be something of a root beer connoisseur, and this was the best I’d ever tasted. Well worth every penny for the cup.

burlington-rookies-root-beer.jpgI pined all winter because Rookie’s has no distribution outside Vermont. In fact, there are only about half a dozen places you can get it: the Saturday Farmer’s Market, and a handful of local restaurants that have it on tap. So today I hunted down Dave Rooke, half of the husband-and-wife team that makes the root beer in their Burlington VT home, and talked to him about getting a supply.

Dave apparently has dealt with requests like mine before, because he didn’t hesitate to invite me to come by his house and bring my own container. He’ll fill whatever I bring, which immediately brought to mind visions of enormous kegs that I would somehow carry across the country with us. Problem is, the root beer has to be chilled at all times, so I can still only get as much as will fit in the refrigerator. Still, I’ll go get at least a couple of gallons, and maybe if I’m feeling generous I’ll bring some to the Trailer Jam for my close friends who also appreciate the fine blending of sassafras, wintergreen, and licorice.

burlington-discover-jazz-fest1.jpgAfter the market, we wandered over to the Church Street Marketplace, only a block away, to take in a few minutes of the Discover Jazz Festival going on all week. That’s quite an event, with bands both big and small, great and not-so-great, playing in the open air for anyone who cares to listen.   Right   up the street we ran into Dave’s wife Jenny, who mans a cart on Church Street seven days a week selling Rookie’s Root Beer (and brownies).   They’re darned serious about their root beer, and Jenny was a treat to talk to.

burlington-color.jpgI should also mention that the Church Street Marketplace is one of the highlights of Burlington VT, well worth a visit in the summer if you happen to be passing through.   It’s colorful, lively, and full of interesting people.   When we were residents of the area, we of course took it for granted, but having been around a few older downtown in the past couple of years, I’ve come to realize how rare it is.   The downtown hasn’t been thoroughly homogenized by The Gap, Old Navy, Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, etc (although some of those stores certainly are noticeable), it retains a lot of local flavor, it is still alive even though big malls have set up shop in the suburbs, and with a four-block brick marketplace instead of the old Church Street, it’s very pedestrian-friendly.

Finally some warm weather has arrived.   The entire week was cloudy, humid, and sub-70 degrees, which is not unusual for northern Vermont in June, but it was the coldest we’ve   been since February.   Grudgingly the cold air has given way to some real heat from the west, and today we got a typical summer day, the “three H’s” as they say here: Hazy, Hot, and Humid.


When that happens, friends tend to gather here, because the lakeside runs cooler and my brother’s Tiki Bar on the beach is open for the season.   After dinner we organized a game of whiffleball on the lawn with two four-person teams.   Emma had never played baseball of any type in her life, so we gave her a quick rundown and she did fairly well, with coaching from Eleanor.

Not that there were a lot of rules to learn — our whiffleball games tend to resemble a combination of rugby and the French Revolution.   Chaos is part of the fun.   One rule we use in short-staffed games (which is all of them) is that you can throw the whiffleball at a runner to tag them out.   In the process of the game we broke one plastic bat and three whiffleballs, two “bases” (upside-down terracotta planters), and had to pause the game for cleanup after Allie the dog left a land mine near first base.   It was a great time.

I think between root beer, jazz, and whiffleball we have officially opened up summer in northern Vermont. The lake is still pretty chilly even by Vermont standards, running about mid-fifties at the moment, but the boat is standing by for deployment and it won’t be long before the watersports begin.   More importantly, today’s activities have driven the “Jack Nicholson” out of me, so I can put away my axe for another week.

Northeast home base

We are back at our northeastern home base, the house where I grew up, lakeside in Vermont.   We are nearly 3,000 miles and two months of travel from our southwestern home base, the way we drove it.

Of course, more lies between the two points than miles and camping nights.   The voyage from one place to another is an experience, different every time we have it, full of people, rich with events.   We could have hopped an airplane from Tucson to Burlington VT.   In a day of travel and one change of plans in New York or Chicago we’d be back, and we would have “saved” two months of our lives.   But what for?   I can’t think of anything I would have rather done with the past two months than exactly what we did.

Our plan is to stay here for two months, more or less.   I mention this as fair warning to those who prefer to tune out when we are parked.   But despite the fact that the Airstream is wedged into the driveway, I don’t think we’ll be just sitting here.   If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you already know: I’ve got plans …   and even when we aren’t taking the Airstream places we will be exploring something.

I’ve said before that when we see saguaro cactus, we know we are close to home base in Arizona,.   Here in Vermont, it was the distinct and familiar smell of liquid cow manure spread over fields.   There’s nothing quite like it.   Not glamorous, that’s for sure.   Even before the classic view of green tree-covered hills and white wood farmhouses appeared in the windshield, that perennial springtime Vermont smell told us we were home.

A lot of people have never been here, so I’ll tell you a little about it.   In Tucson a couple of weeks ago, the first one hundred degree day arrived, an event the locals refer to as the day “the ice melted in the Santa Cruz River.”   It will keep hitting the triple digits for several months.   In contrast, here in Vermont in early June, the Airstream’s furnace is running to keep the interior at 68 degrees.   The weather is unpredictable: we might get anything from frost to upper 90s, but mostly it is cool. This is a special part of the country with its own climate, not just “New England,” but “northern New England.”

Even though summer won’t arrive for a few more weeks, the good camping season has begun.   In this part of the country, we can’t wait for the peak of summer before getting out to do things.   The summer is just too short.   So campgrounds open up in mid-May when the black flies are also open for business, and close in mid-October when the nights are almost always freezing.   In between, northern New Englanders rush around to get as much done as they can.

July marks the middle of that season, which is part of the reason why we chose July 11-14 for the Vintage Trailer Jam.   I finished my pre-rally work this morning at the Saratoga Spa State Park. Colin Hyde drove down for the morning to join me in meetings with the park’s manager and the director of the Automobile Museum.   Things are looking good.

That park keeps getting better and better.   We’re only the third group ever allowed to camp on the premises (the first was the Boy Scouts).   In addition to all the stuff I discovered yesterday, it turns out the park has a second Olympic-sized swimming pool with a zero-depth entry (“beach”), a water slide, and a kid’s “mushroom fountain” wading pool.   It’s all free to us.   We also picked up a schedule for the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and discovered that the New York City Ballet will be performing.   I’m starting to think that a week in Saratoga Springs this summer won’t be enough time.

One thing I know we won’t be doing this summer, fortunately.   We won’t be spending weeks at our storage unit disposing of possessions.   We finished that job last summer and no longer have a Vermont storage unit. (We do, however, have an Arizona storage unit — it’s called a house.)   I only have one major thing to find a home for: a 1963 Serro Scotty “Sportsman” 15-foot trailer.   It’s darned cute, light as fluffy pancake, and more or less usable, but I just don’t have time to fix it up the way it should be.   I’m going to look for someone who wants it. In this age of $5/gallon diesel, maybe someone will want to tow it behind a compact car.

Final report from Tucson

We are just about ready to launch, and it feels strange. The house is at last usable, mostly. We finally got running water in the sinks just two days ago. We have window shades, working plumbing, beds, reading lamps, and a couch — things that make a house habitable. We have friendly relationships with our neighbors, paid-up real estate taxes, and flowers on the grapefruit tree. So why are we leaving?

Because life is calling. Because we can. There are things out there that we haven’t seen, people we haven’t met, and experiences we can’t even imagine, if we just break away from the status quo, the comfortable house, and the safe backyard, to find them. At any moment something might change to prevent us from being able to get away (school, health, money). We’ve got this opportunity and who knows how long it will last?

But I have to admit that I am sorry to leave this soon. This is one of the perfect seasons in Tucson, and will continue to be for another couple of weeks, at least. The weather has been spectacular, the hiking is prime, everyone’s in a great mood, and there are dozens of great things to do all over the area. I’d like to stay and enjoy it all, and the house, for just a little longer, but choices had to be made and we have already stayed much longer than we had originally planned.

The delay in departure has meant a few things have fallen off our travel itinerary. Padre Island in Texas got dropped. Our service stop in Weatherford TX at Roger Williams Airstream got dropped. We cut a week out of our Florida stopover, and shortened Big Bend National Park from 7-8 days to just 4-5 days. We’ll probably skip right through GA and SC to get to NC’s Outer Banks. You can never escape the imperative of compromise.

Today I completed 90% of my departure checklist and found a little time to do some trip planning. I use Mapquest to rough out the route, then pick out spots we want to visit and people we want to see. I was surprised that I had the temptation to make reservations at various state parks along the way. In the south, it is still high season at many places (through mid-April or even mid-May depending on location), and so reservations aren’t a bad idea. But as I’ve written before, we find that reservations tend to force into an overly-rigid schedule. So I didn’t make any reservations at all.

I think my temptation stemmed from having been off the road so long. Sitting still for a long time, confidence begins to erode and the creeping demon of “What If” begins to invade my brain. What if we get somewhere and the campground is full? What if we are 80 miles from the next decent spot (a distinct possibility in west Texas)? Then I remember, we’ve dealt with those things many times in the past. No matter where we go, we’ll still have our home and everything we need right behind us. We don’t need a campground, we just need somewhere to park. Everything else just adds to the adventure …

… although I wouldn’t mind if our next few adventures involved cool stuff, rather than mechanical problems. I am really hoping for a few months of no tire problems, and no expensive failures. To that end, one of my tasks in the morning will be a very careful undercarriage, tire, and hitch check.

Since I’m on the subject of maintenance, I will toss in an update on our tow vehicle. I get a lot of questions about it from blog readers, and I don’t mention it much because there’s little to say. The Nissan Armada has been highly reliable. We have 63,000 miles on it, of which I estimate about 55,000 miles are towing, and it is still happy. We had the in-depth 60K service done last December and it got a clean bill of health from the dealership. I wish it got better fuel economy (9-10 MPG towing, 15 MPG not towing), but in all other respects it has proven to be a reliable and competent tow vehicle.

However, I should say that for a longer trailer like ours, I think the Hensley Arrow hitch is essential because of the short wheelbase of the Armada (23″ shorter than the similar Nissan Titan pickup). Without the Hensley the handling of the 30-foot trailer was not nearly as secure at highway speeds. I mention this because I also get a lot of queries about our hitch. It has definitely saved us from a few “adventures” of the negative kind over the past couple of years.

Interestingly, Ron Estrada of Hensley Manufacturing told me last December that 14% of Hensley owners had Airstreams. Considering that Airstream is only about 2% of the overall travel trailer market, that’s a pretty heavy endorsement by Airstream owners. Maybe we just like to spend money, but I think it’s because people who appreciate Airstreams also appreciate good design in other things.

If you want one but don’t like the new price, check the bulletin board at a major regional or national Airstream rally and you may find a used one cheap. In Perry GA at the WBCCI International Rally last summer I spotted two with asking prices around $500. That’s a steal for a Hensley.   Of course, at that price I’d expect it to need refurbishing, which I believe the factory will do.

If all goes well in the morning, we will be off around 10 or 11 a.m. Our plan is to keep our drive under 250 miles on travel days, so it will take us two and a half days just to get to Big Bend National Park in Texas. I’ll start providing coordinates of our camping locations again starting tomorrow. Wish us luck.

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